WASHINGTON — Republicans stepped up their attacks on the Obama administration over a deepening Veterans Affairs healthcare delay scandal on Thursday, but House Speaker John Boehner again declined to join a growing list of lawmakers calling for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign.
Boehner told reporters he was still not convinced that Shinseki’s ouster would solve the VA’s problems. Instead, he sought to keep the pressure on President Barack Obama for VA scheduling abuses that covered up monthslong delays for veterans’ medical care appointments.
“I’m going to continue to reserve judgment on General Shinseki,” Boehner said. “The question I ask myself is, is him resigning going to get us to the bottom of the problem, is it going to help us find out what is really going on? The answer is no.”
On Wednesday, the Department of Veterans Affairs’ inspector general confirmed “systemic” and widespread manipulation of data that understated VA health appointment waiting times, prompting both Democratic and Republican lawmakers to call for Shinseki to quit.
In an interim report on an investigation at VA facilities in Phoenix, the inspector general confirmed that 1,700 veterans were being held on a secret waiting list that allowed Phoenix VA officials to report much shorter waiting times, data used in their salary and bonus award calculations.
It said similar probes are under way at 42 VA locations across the United States.
“The real issue here is the president is the one who should be held accountable,” Boehner said, adding that the VA inspector general and the Government Accountability Office have flagged scheduling problems at the VA for years.
Republican Representative Peter King of New York said Boehner told House Republicans in a closed-door meeting that he was concerned that simply replacing Shinseki might give the impression that the VA’s problems were solved and it “may end the whole situation too quickly.”
The scandal exploded earlier this month after VA doctors in Phoenix went public with allegations that some 40 veterans had died while waiting months for primary-care appointments.
White House spokesman Jay Carney repeatedly declined to say whether Obama still has confidence in Shinseki but added that the President wanted accountability based on the outcome of investigations and results of an internal VA audit due shortly.
Meanwhile, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives is pursuing its own investigation into the care delay scandal and new legislation to address it.
These include a measures from Representative Jeff Miller of Florida, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, to freeze VA bonus awards for five years and to order that veterans be allowed to seek private care at the agency’s expense if they are forced to wait more than 30 days for an appointment.
Miller, frustrated with what he calls an “inadequate” VA response to his committee’s subpoenas for emails and other correspondence related to the Phoenix secret waiting lists, said he is planning to file a federal court petition to try to compel the agency to turn over more documents.